Of Course You Can!

A little while ago, y’all learned not to ask me a certain question:


What should I knit?

And since I didn’t explain in that post what the second-question-I-won’t-answer was, now nobody will talk to me.  So, I guess I’d better clear this up today.

The second question I get asked by knitters, which I will not answer, is

[knitter in shop holds up pattern, yarn, maybe even needles] and asks:

Can I do this?

Well, thus the title of this post.  Of course the literal answer is always, "Yes."  You can do anything you wish — or at least you can attempt to — and no one is going to hold a gun to your head.  The Knitting Police are not going to tackle you just outside the shop door and cuff you for your choices.

Again, it took me a while to figure out what the "real" question was.  At first I thought it was something like this:

Will I like it?

or maybe,

Will it end up looking like what I am envisioning?

Of course, that question can’t be answered by anyone but the questioner.  Personal taste varies considerably, as does the ability to envision.  In fact, that’s one of the hardest things for many people, going by the conversations I’ve had — particularly when trying to cook up a combination of yarns for a project.  (This is where Sandi’s ability is so incredible, it’s akin to magic.  And you know I don’t use that word lightly.  I’ve tried asking her how she does it.  Unfortunately, even getting an answer straight from the oracle does not appear to magically bestow upon one the ability to do it oneself.)

But there is a sub-question even under that.  Herein lies the real issue for many knitters, myself included, especially when trying to substitute yarns or make other changes to an existing pattern:

Am I about to make a biiiiiiiig mistake?

Yeah, that’s a tough one.  Again, not for me to answer.  Knitting is so very personal!  One person’s mistake is another person’s magnum opus, a tour de force — or at least a "design opportunity".   I’ve seen many a knitter overjoyed with a project that I would consider a form of punishment.  To each her own!

As far as big mistakes go, though, I’ve got some doozies hidden in my personal knitting closet.  Back in the day, some of my own projects were, shall we say, less than well-thought-out.  Well, ladies, I hate to say it, but that’s how you learn.  At least, apparently, that’s how I learn.

original anna mieke sweaterThe one that still haunts me One of the most memorable of my own unfortunate projects occurred back in 1989, when I was working a co-op job in Ohio.  There was this Vogue Knitting sweater by Anna Mieke from Fall/Winter ’85 that I’d been just dying to make.  The time had come.

I was a poor, young and ignorant college kid back then, not even quite old enough to drink legally, and I didn’t know anything about wool other than I’d heard it was scratchy — so I was using acrylic yarns, which I still think is at least partially to blame for what ensued.  And I’m gonna say that the 80’s in general are also partly to blame.  And maybe Ohio had something to do with it.

Well.  I thought the dark green and navy stripes were just a bit too boring.  Didn’t show up too well against the black.  So I decided to choose something…  hmmm…  a bit… ahhhh… brighter.

Oh, I can’t believe I’m going to admit the full and unpleasant truth here.  (But if nothing else, this will definitely stop people asking my advice in knit shops!)  So, in the interest of full disclosure —

Perhaps I was seduced by the touches of yellow in the photograph, I don’t know.  But I decided to do the sweater in… in…

OK, in yellowstripesalloverwithmintgreenstripesonthebodyandsortoftangerinestripesonthesleeve.first version

There, I said it.  I know you are laughing yourself sick, especially if you think about how unnaturally foul vivid those colors would be in acrylic yarns.

Hey, let’s see if I can punish myself (and you) even more.  With the magic of photoshop, I bet I can show you a pretty good approximation of just what that monstrosity looked like.

Well, I’m no photoshop expert, so unfortunately this rendition doesn’t do it 100% justice.  The yellow was far more sunshine-y, as I recall.  But I don’t want to burn anyone’s retinas, either, so maybe it’s just as well.

Believe it or not, I finished it — caught up in the excitement of finally doing this totally cool sweater with the pocket on the sleeve and everything.

But when it was done, I did have the sense not to wear it.  It is probably still polluting a landfill somewhere in northeastern Ohio.

So, in my disappointment and my shame, I next tried to figure out:  where, oh where, had I gone so terribly wrong?second version

Well.  At some point it dawned on me that one of the colors that the designer used — the one that was common to both parts of the sweater — was a neutral.  BLACK.

OK, I said.  I can do that.  On the next attempt I used black for the main stripes, and what was actually a kind of pretty turquoise blue for the body stripes.  Apparently I couldn’t help myself completely, though, and I used yellow again for the sleeve stripes.  But wonder of wonders, it wasn’t too bad (it was still the 80’s, remember).  I’d brightened the thing up as I had wanted to, but still it remained within the boundaries of halfway decent taste (the 80’s, I keep telling you).

That one I actually wore.  In fact, a woman who lived in the same apartment building saw it, and exclaimed that her sister would love it as an Xmas gift.  I guess I was still a little miffed at myself over the whole episode, so I sold it to her.  Which makes that the very first money I ever earned from knitting — although the knowledge I gained from the whole thing was far more valuable.  It’s always good to know one’s limits, after all.  What’s that thing about admitting you have a problem being the first step?

In a blatant attempt to redeem myself here, let me add that I’ve never made quite as bad an error of judgement since then — in my knitting anyway — knock on wood, or bamboo or something.

The next VK sweater I made color changes to was much more successful.  In the magazine, it was mainly black, with a large tattersall check in tangerine, and touches of turquoise green.  I remembered the lesson I’d recently learned about NEUTRALS, so I changed the black to white, with a coral check, and touches of aqua.  It turned out quite nicely.

Oh, but don’t think this incident no longer affects me.  Perhaps you remember how careful I was when I started playing around with the Fair Isle panel on the Nutcracker sweater?  (Proof that even I can learn something, given 20 years.)

Practically every time I’m thinking about substituting colors, I remember that yellow-orange-green thing, and I just shudder.  It’s scarred me and my artistic side deeply, to the point where I have lost a lot of my adventurousness.

OTOH, when you think about what I’m capable of — maybe that’s a good thing.

  3 comments for “Of Course You Can!

  1. 06/16/2008 at 8:18 AM

    I guess this is one reason that people will typically use the yarn that is featured in the published pattern. Not such bad idea after all, especially with HORIZONTAL STRIPES. FGS, what were you thinking? That said, you can be very,very proud of how far you’ve come, e.g. the Nutcracker sweater is a work of art!

  2. namasteknitter
    06/16/2008 at 3:57 PM

    Hey there, I’m surfing on my Blackberry while waiting at the children’s theatre. Pretty cool,huh?

  3. 06/16/2008 at 4:24 PM


    Horizontal stripes, maybe, but just look at the amount of ease in that baby. To fit a 34″ bust, the finished size is 44.5″. (Sigh. I wish VK still published sizing this way so you could tell exactly how much ease there is…)

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